Volkswagen’s eGolf

In order to tackle global warming, end pollution from gas/diesel vehicles, and stop endless wars for oil, the world needs to move as quickly as possible from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to electric vehicles. The world’s big automobile manufacturers have been slow to make this necessary move because they have substanital resources tied up in ICE factories where they are currently making nice profits. In many places in the world, such as California, the companies are required to sell a certain percentage of “clean energy” vehicles each year. The companies, complaining that they are making electric vehicles at a loss, comply with the minimum in what are called “compliance electric vehicles.”

Volkswagen has paid billions of dollars in fines for cheating on their diesel car admission tests. Their sales of diesel cars are declining precipitately. To refurbish their tarnished reputation, Volkswagen is claiming that by 2023 it will invest $34 billion dollars in electric vehicles. This is only talk and the big, legacy auto companies have been long on talk and short on implementation. Volkswagen, though, seems to be the first large auto company that is beginning to actually build and promote its electric vehicles. The latest information from Rwanda seems to confirm this assessment.

Volkswagen opened a small assembly factory in Rwanda in June last year with a maximum capacity of 1000 vehicles per year. This is not a manufacturing plant but one that assembles a kit with the total parts from a factory outside the country. The small Golf model is one of Volkswagen’s biggest world sellers. It has developed an electric version called the “eGolf.”

Volkswagen is implementing a pilot program to assess how electric cars will perform in Rwanda. To begin, Volkswagen has brought 4 eGolfs to Rwanda with one charging station supplied by Seimens at its factory. In the next few months, VW plans on bringing 50 eGolfs with Seimens developing 15 charging stations in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. These eGolf will not be built in Rwanda but imported from Germany. They will not be sold, but rather used by VW-Rwanda itself in its ride sharing service.

According to its press release, “The pilot project will involve data collection and analysis on aspects such as performance of the electric cars, reception by consumers, consumer trends and suitable conditions for the cars.” Volkswagen is implementing this project to understand the African market for electric vehicles with the hope of expanding to other African countries. Since Rwanda imports 100% of its oil products, the most costly import for the country, Rwanda would greatly benefit from electric vehicles that don’t need imported gas/diesel.

One of the issues that VW-Rwanda had to address was if Rwanda had sufficient electricity capacity to charge electric vehicles. The answer was affirmative, but most of the charging will be done at night during periods of low electricity consumption. The range of the eGolf is only 230 kilometers (143 miles), but Rwanda is a very small country about the size of Maryland so range anxiety will not be an issue. Moreover initially the service will be confined to Kigali itself.

Does this small, pilot project in Rwanda imply that Volkswagen is serious about developing and promoting electric vehicles? With time, we will know the answer.


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David Zarembka

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